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OTC OBD I & II Scan Tool 3211

Tool Review

by Ryan King

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When the Cobalt had a major running issue after a long road trip, I decided it was time to invest in a code scanner.

I've been carefully eyeing this level of scan tool for years. The problem has always been a lack of versatility. I need something that will run all the codes of both OBD I & II. And no scanner I could find on the market had done that well enough for me. To be fair, this one doesn't either. In order to get the coverage of both OBD I & II in a tool for $255 (at the time of purchase), there are features missing.

Examples of features I need that this tool doesn't have:

  • The ability to control the actuators on my '87, '93, and '95 Mustang GT.
  • The ability to interface with the ABS controller on the GT.
  • The ability to read the enhanced data stream of the powertrain and ABS systems on the Cobalt.
  • The ability to reset the steering and brake system on the Cobalt.

There are a couple of other features that don't affect me that can be had with a comparable tool, the OTC Code Scanner ABS & Airbag, P/N 3210, and there are quite a few features that aren't available on this tool that are in the much higher end models, but, given the breadth of the coverage I'm looking for, my immediate needs with the Cobalt, and the necessity to have it in my hands right now at a reasonable price, the OBD I & II Scan Tool (P/N 3211), fits the bill to a "T."

The big question is, how well does it work.

After reading the destructions as thoroughly as necessary for my current situation (meaning all chapters pertaining to the scan tool, itself, and the one dealing with OBD II scanning — not those related to the different OBD I systems it can cover), I'm very hopeful I will be able to tell with a high enough degree of certainty whether or not I can get the Cobalt repaired for what I can afford.

Along with code reading and limited diagnostic capabilities, Code Connect is a great feature in the OTC 3210 and 3211 scan tools. It features a database of tested repairs for many of the various codes and cars it covers, however, in order to do what I will be doing with the scanner this time, I will likely need to rely on my own systems knowledge.

In order to figure out what's wrong, I will be triangulating, based on the number of systems effected, what is causing the engine to run the way it is (or not run, as the case may be). By noting the number of systems the codes are referencing, the way those systems overlap, coupled with the way it is running, I should be able to tell if the engine is toast, or if there just happens to be a really bad failure to one or two of the systems that run the engine, such as fuel and/or ignition.

One of the big mistakes I've found shade tree and professional mechanic make, alike, with the modern technology in cars is to assume that if the car throws a code for, say, the EGR valve, that the EGR valve is bad and needs to be replaced. That simply isn't the case. As an example, a code for the EGR valve — depending on the code — could mean anything in the system, such as the wiring harness, connectors, or possibly even the driver in the computer. So, in order to properly diagnose any given code, you have to manually go in and troubleshoot the entire system the code relates to. This, of course, is time consuming and can be very complicated — two big deterrents to doing the work.

The '97 Saturn I once owned, had that exact problem. Had the ASE Master Technician working on the car at the Saturn dealership done the job of tracing the entire system, he would have found that the clip that held the clutch pedal on the shaft of the support bracket had cut its way through the wiring harness and was causing a short in the system. Instead, I had to do that for him, after having had the EGR valve replaced — which, of course, didn't resolve the problem.

I got to pay twice for that as the dealership refused to acknowledge they were the same issue.

Follow along while I work my way through the process of diagnosing the Cobalt with my brand new OTC 3211 OBD I & II Scan Tool.

Assembly Procedure

NIB

NIB

Here's the scan tool, as it arrived, "new in box" — or plastic clam shell packaging, as the case may be. Unlike a real clam shell, it isn't hinged for easy opening. It's heat-sealed shut. Normally, I would use a manual can opener to cut the edges off, but I couldn't find the can opener this time around, and was forced to use my pocket knife and a scissors. The people over at OTC really don't want you stealing it. It felt like I needed the jaws of life and a grinder to open it. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

The Tool

The Tool

Fresh out of the box with the screen cover removed. The size is deceptive. I have larger than average hands and it fits snuggly in one hand. It's slightly larger and three times thicker than an iPhone X. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

The Cables

The Cables

Included in a box in the clam shell is this case, which holds the cables. There is one for almost every application the scanner will work with, including the Extension/Adapter Cable, OBD II cable, Ford EEC IV OBD I Cable, GM OBD I ALDL Cable, Chrysler OBD I SCI Cable, Toyota OBD I Rectangular Cable, Toyota OBD I Round Cable, and Cigarette Lighter Power Cable (for use with OBD I applications that don't have a power pin in their connections — there are ample warnings in the user manual not to use this cable with OBD II). Cables not included but may be necessary are the Battery Clip Y Adapter Cable (to get power directly from the battery if necessary), Ford OBD I MECS Cable, and Chrysler OBD I LH Cable. Lastly, the USB cable necessary to hook the tool up to a PC for power, to download updates for the tool over the internet, and to use with OTC's Scanning Suite software, isn't included either. Neither is it listed with the rest of the cables in Chapter 3. The information for that cable isn't provided anywhere in the manual, so I'm not sure if OTC provides one, or if you are just supposed to source one on your own. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Back Cover

Back Cover

Before going to town on the car, I installed the required four AAA batteries. The tool will work on the car, or powered via the USB connector (cable not included), without the batteries, but in order to power it up without it being hooked up, the batteries are necessary and not included with the tool. You'll also need a screw driver to open the back cover, which, again, isn't included with the tool. As a side note: be super careful not to strip the threads or the head of the screw. The threads in the tool are brass, and the head of the screw uses a smaller Phillips screw driver, like a #3 (I just carefully used the screw driver in my Swiss Army knife — which just happened to be the ideal size). Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

OTC OBD I & II Scan Tool 3211 | Batteries Not Included

Batteries Not Included

Since batteries aren't included, I lucked out by having a number of loose Energizer AAA batteries lying around. Although it will undoubtedly run longer on a set of Li Ion batteries, the manual only calls for alkalines, which these are. The manual does recommend removing them to store the tool, and with the cost of the tool and the chance of a battery leaking over time, I won't be chancing it. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Up and Running

Up and Running

Once the batteries were in, I just needed to hit the power button and it came to life. I didn't need to change any of the tool settings before putting it to work, but I did look them all over. The instructions for how to use them are in the user manual, which is quite comprehensive, and I do recommend reading it cover to cover before getting started. You will undoubtedly save yourself some headaches, and possibly prevent damage to the device from improper use. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Putting It to Work

Everything I Needed

Everything I Needed

In order to check out the hissy fit the Cobalt SS/SC was having, I needed to use these three components: the Scan Tool, the Extension/Adapter Cable, and the OBD II Cable. I didn't need the Cigarette Lighter Power Cable because — as mentioned above — the OBD II connector is self-powered and is used to power the tool. Like with the screw on the back of the tool, be careful with the screws in the cables. Don't over tighten, but do press the cables firmly together before turning the screws down, it will keep the cable from getting cocked, which can cause you to cross-thread the screws. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Making a Connection

Making a Connection

Here are the OBD II tool and car connections side by side. As you can see not all pins are used in the Cobalt's connector. Before installing the cable, I carefully checked to be sure the car's connector was clean. Maybe it's just me, but it seems like this would be a prime candidate for a cover of some kind — even if it is inside the cabin, unlike the Ford EEC IV connectors. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Getting Down to Business

Getting Down to Business

Here we go. As the manual stated, when the OBD I & II Scan Tool was plugged in, it immediately came on. I followed the instructions for recognizing the vehicle (it's done differently for earlier and later vehicles — see the user's manual), and then went through the steps to read the codes, which involved going from the Main Menu to Vehicle Diagnostics to Read Codes, and voila, I got seven total codes retrieved. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

P2176 — Historical

P2176 — Historical

What does this all mean? P2176 is the code. As per the user manual, "P2" means the code is powertrain-related and is a generic OBD II code as per SAE specification. The "1" designates the vehicle specific system. "76" is the fault designation. Here's what the rest of the information means:

P2176 Definition:
As shown in the photo, "throttle actuator control system — idle position not learned."
CURRENT (Highlighted in Blue):
The trouble the code indicated is active and can't be erased. In order to remove the DTC (diagnostic trouble code), the problem must be repaired.
HISTORY (Highlighted in Blue):
The code is also held in the computer's historical memory.
MIL (Highlighted in Blue):
The code caused the MIL — or Malfunction Indicator Light in the dash — to come on.
1/7 (Upper Right Corner):
Indicates this DTC is the first of seven reported.
ECM $10 (Upper Right Corner):
This is the location designator for the control module the code was reported from.
"MIL" and "REQUESTED" (Below):
Means the code requested the MIL be turned on.
"Since last key cycle" and "FAIL" (Below):
Related to the I/M (inspection/maintenance) Monitor, this means the circuit failed the test since the car was last turned on and off.
"Since DTCs erased" and "PASS/FAIL" (Below):
Also related to the I/M Monitor, I don't know what it means and I was unable to find an explanation, other than that whatever "PASS/FAIL" means, it occurred since the DTCs were last erased.
Code Criteria (Bottom Left Corner):
Now that little "i" with the blue circle around it in the bottom left corner is a useful tool. You press the corresponding button below it on the tool's keypad to get the Code Criteria, or the detailed conditions that caused the code to be thrown. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.
P2101 — Historical

P2101 — Historical

We've been over the meaning of most of the information on this screen in "P2176 — Historical" above, so I'm just going to explain the new and/or most pertinent pieces of information here:

P2101 Definition:
Throttle actuator control motor circuit range / performance.
HISTORY (Highlighted in Blue):
Like the P2176 code, this one is held in the computer's history. Although, it isn't current.
MIL (Highlighted in Blue):
It caused the MIL to illuminate.
"Since last key cycle" and "NOT RUN" (Below):
This time, "Since last key cycle" returned a "NOT RUN" status, so it wasn't run since the last key cycle.
CODE (Bottom Center):
This is a very useful tool. It shows that there is Code Connect information for this code. Code Connect is a database of real world fixes for various codes. This code returned only one reported fix — and it wasn't the best news, but it wasn't the worst. Read "P2101 Code Connect," below. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.
P1516 — Historical

P1516 — Historical

This is the last of the historical codes, so indicated by the highlighted blue "HISTORY" note on the screen. As you can see, this one also relates to the throttle:

P1516 Definition:
Throttle actuator control module throttle actuator position performance.
HISTORY (Highlighted in Blue):
Like both of the previous codes, this one is held in the computer's history, and like P2101, it isn't current.
MIL (Highlighted in Blue):
It caused the MIL to illuminate. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.
P2176 — Confirmed

P2176 — Confirmed

This is the same P2176 code thrown above, but this time it has only the blue highlighted "CONFIRMED" note and no other information:

CONFIRMED (Highlighted in Blue):
This indicates that the component is indicating a malfunction is present. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.
P2101 — Confirmed

P2101 — Confirmed

Again, same as above with the same changes as "P2176 — CONFIRMED." Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

P1516 — Confirmed

P1516 — Confirmed

This is the last confirmed code. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

P2176 — Pending

P2176 — Pending

P2176 is showing up for a third and final time, this time with a "PENDING" status showing:

PENDING (Highlighted in Blue):
An intermittent code that has yet to mature into a full-blown code that would illuminate the MIL. In this case, this code has, indeed, matured. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.
P2101 Code Connect

P2101 Code Connect

Above, in "P2101 — Historical," I made mention of the Code Connect feature of the OTC OBD I & II Scan Tool. This image is why. The Code Connect feature came up with one, single repair reported to resolve the problem of this code, and that is to replace the PCM or Powertrain Control Module. Although not nearly as expensive as an engine or cylinder head, it's still not cheap by any stretch. My guess is, if it is this, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 for the repair. Of course I won't know until I get the car in. Which works out for this article, because it will show just how effective this code scanner can be. Photo: Ryan King, 2018. Click image to enlarge.

Test Results

The problem looks to be contained within the throttle control system and nothing to do with the engine mechanicals.

That's a relief.

Conclusion

After a week of waiting, I got the Cobalt back — and I didn't have to use a tow truck to do it.

The OTC OBD I & II Scan Tool was spot on. It was the throttle control system, and specifically, the throttle position sensors on the throttle body. The repair wasn't cheap — the entire throttle body had to be replaced as a single unit to replace the sensors — but the Scan Tool solved my dilemma of not knowing how severe the problem was and it kept me from having to waste the extra money having the car towed and diagnosed without being able to repair it if it had been a more severe problem.

An important side note, however, was that as noted in the "P2101 Code Connect" caption, the Code Connect software had only one reported repair for this issue on a Cobalt SS Supercharged, and that was to replace the PCM — which was not the problem here. That said, the Cobalt SS Supercharged is a limited production car, so there wouldn't be a broad sample size of cars to report failures and repair solutions on.

Although not the cheapest code scanner on the market, and not the most comprehensive diagnostic tool, the OTC OBD I & II Scan Tool strikes a good balance between cost and functionality while covering a broad range of vehicles. It also works well as a quick, easy to use, and effective tool for problem solving. Without hesitation, I can say I highly recommend this piece of equipment. It makes a great, cost effective diagnostic tool for the tool box of any DIYer or professional technician on a budget.

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For more information contact OTC on the web at www.otctools.com, or by phone 1.800.533.6127, or by email at inquiry@service-solutions.com.

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